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    The Freedom of Literacy

    By Trenèe Chimère Lurry
     | Aug 05, 2021
    FreedomOfLiteracy_680w

    Literacy opens the door and opportunity to freedom—to engage in a world separate from the one in which you reside. If you allow yourself to enter, your options are endless. Frederick Douglass said, “Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.” Literacy offers that opportunity. It opens a door to freedom that can be conceived only once it is obtained.

    However, lacking in this ability connects to a prison of the mind, a prison that holds many of our Black and Brown children hostage, and a prison that can prevent all students from experiencing the joy that we know literacy can bring to their lives.

    Teaching to dream

    Finding the joy in literacy requires the ability to dream. We know our students come with many different needs and differences. But the ability to dream should be afforded to everyone regardless of skill level or ability. A dream is a cherished ambition, aspiration, or ideal.

    As educators, we must believe for our students what they sometimes do not believe for themselves. Your dreams for your students’ achievements and expectations go hand in hand and can open the door for a reality that can supersede your greatest expectations. Having great aspirations for your students will increase their desire to reach them.

    Research has proven that high expectations improve performance. What you believe about your students can be a motivating factor in or a deterrent to their progress. You may see scores you don’t like or a curriculum that does not support your aspirations for your students. But I urge you: Do not allow your eyes or your present reality to deter your dreams. Believe what can be. Help your students by allowing them the freedom to dream. Let the dreams that you have become the goals that you set. Communicate the dreams you have about your students to them so they know you believe. Make your dreams visible so students can see them. Display vision boards so students can connect with what you envision.

    Help make dreams become reality. Push for necessary changes to curriculum. Do not let policies stifle the possibilities that are endless when dreams and high expectations collide.

    Time for change

    I can speak confidently because of my special education background. I have seen students find their joy in literacy. For eight years, I was immersed in it. I taught high school life skills. My struggle daily was having to use a reading program that lacked both a focus on phonemic awareness and texts that were grade-level appropriate. Students’ reading levels were between first and fourth grade but their ages were 14–21.

    Once my district found a program that concentrated on phonics, as well as grade-level culturally responsive texts with diverse representation and relevant topics, dreams became realities. I saw Lexile levels soar 30 to 50 points in three months. Confidence that I never saw before in the eyes of my students appeared, and I saw the doors of opportunity and possibility open, and areas of darkness become lightened.

    Opportunities were on the horizon for my students. That same possibility can exist for more students if we just begin to shift the narrative and change our perspective. I never stopped dreaming no matter what my reality was. Because of that, I firmly believe that all students can walk in freedom and the joy of literacy.  

    Trenèe Chimère Lurry has been a special education teacher for the past eight years. She is a firm believer that representation matters and there is a greater need for it in our schools. This led her to pursue her master’s in educational leadership, which she completed in May 2021.

    This post is a companion piece to the July/August/September issue of Literacy Today, ILA’s member magazine, which focuses on the theme of Joy in Literacy Instruction.

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    The Literacy Teacher Edit, Part 2

    By Katie Caprino
     | Jul 26, 2021
    kids at classroom library

    A fan of Netflix’s Get Organized With The Home Edit, I immediately thought about connections to literacy instruction. In Part 1 of this blog series, I discussed THE connections to writing. In this blog post, I share ideas about how to apply THE method to cultivating resources.

    The Library Edit 

    Here is how I recommend applying THE to curating your face-to-face or virtual classroom library.

    Edit: Take stock of the texts available to your students by asking the following questions:  

    • What topics are present and not present? 
    • What types of genres are present and not present? 
    • What student reading abilities can or cannot access these texts?  
    • In what media are books available and which are not available?  
    • Whose voices are present and whose are not present?  
    • What settings are present and not present? 
    • What cultures are present and not present? 
    • What perspectives are present and not present? 
    • What abilities are present and not present? 
    • What makes sense in terms of different (physical, virtual, or both) piles? How should books be organized (e.g., by spine colors, levels, genres, topics)? 
    • What organizational products (e.g., bins, shelves, virtual libraries, lists) work for my readers? 

    Depending on your students’ ages, you could have students edit their at-home libraries at the same time you edit the class library. Teachers of students working remotely can learn a lot about book access and the types of books that are more accessible than others. Consider what books need to be added to your library and which should be donated or be stored elsewhere.  

    Assembly: In this step, you put together your classroom library according to the structure determined in the editing phase. You may put physical books on particular shelves that make sense for students’ heights. Virtual libraries can be assembled on Google slides in ways that maximize accessibility. 

    Upkeep: You will want to make sure that students are a part of maintaining the books within the library. For example, if books are organized according to genre, students need to know genre characteristics. If new books come into the library, you and your students might think about which books to donate or put in a storage bin or another virtual library slide for now. 

    Applying THE process to classroom libraries is not a one-and-done event. As you acquire more physical books or find additional virtual libraries online, THE process will have to be continually applied. Having students edit the library each year or at the beginning of each quarter will reveal new steps for the library. Different groups of students may like certain topics more than others, for example. Make sure to allow your students’ reading interests and abilities to inform the editing of your classroom libraries. Students’ insight into your classroom library can be helpful and meaningful as we aim for our ultimate goal: cultivating lifelong readers. 

    The Technology Resources Edit

    And, finally, here is how I apply THE to the myriad technology resources I have come across during this period of remote teaching: 

    Edit: If you are like me, you have lists of technology resources that colleagues have created. My list was small at the beginning of the school year, but now it’s becoming quite long. Inspired by both Stephanie Affinito’s post “Organize, Collaborate and More With Google Keep” and THE process, I embarked on organizing my technology resources links so that they can be useful. 

    First I copied and pasted all of my URLs in one document. Then, I color coded my resources to create labels such as Early Literacy Resources, Virtual Classroom Backgrounds, Secondary Methods Resources, Children’s Picture Book Virtual Libraries, and Young Adult Virtual Libraries. Then I critically reflected on the quality of the resources and pared down each list to the top five resources. That was the hardest part for me!

    Assembly: Once I had my labels and top five resources, I used Google’s Keep function (Padlet is another tool that might work for this) and created sticky notes for each of my categories. I then created lists with the resources’ hyperlinks.

    Upkeep: Upkeep will be hard, especially considering that a quick look at social media can add more resources to my running list. But with every new resource I find, I consider whether this new resource should replace an old one or maybe be kept in reserve to switch in later. Either way, maintaining my resource lists will help me find my resources more quickly so that I can incorporate them into my teaching or recommend them to my students more easily. 

    Go Forth and Edit 

    I hope that these blog posts give you a few ways to think about applying THE to your classroom writing instruction, libraries, and technology resources. Please let me know how you applying THE method to your literacy instruction and professional development! 
     
    Katie Caprino is an assistant professor of PK–12 New Literacies at Elizabethtown College. She teaches and researches in the areas of children’s, middle grade, and young adult literature; technology integration in the literacy classroom; and the teaching of writing and blogs frequently at her blog
    Katie Reviews Books (katiereviewsbooks.wordpress.com). You can follow her on Twitter @KCapLiteracy.

     
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    The Literacy Teacher Edit, Part 1

    By Katie Caprino
     | Jul 16, 2021
    TheHomeEdit_680w

    I always look for ways I can apply my passion for literacy to various media. So when I came across Netflix’s series Get Organized With The Home Edit, based on Clea Shearer and Joanna Teplin’s company The Home Edit (THE)—which was started via social media, a fact I love as a professor of new literacies!—I couldn’t stop making connections between each episode I viewed and teaching literacy.

    In this blog post, I describe THE method and share how you can apply the tenets of Get Organized With The Home Edit to writing instruction. In a future post, I’ll detail how you can apply the method to your classroom library (in-school or virtual) and digital resource curation.

    THE process 

    Shearer and Teplin articulate three key elements of organization in their Netflix show and first book The Home Edit: edit, assembly, and upkeep. 

    When they meet clients who need organizational help, they ask them first to edit their material. Clients take everything out of a particular space and create groupings for analysis. Decisions are made about which items to keep and which need to be donated, stored elsewhere, or thrown out. 

    Then the organizers think about a sustainable organizational scheme that meets form and function. As much as they want a pretty ROYGBIV-colored bookcase, they also want kids to find their books or games more easily. The beautiful labels on bins, baskets, racks, and rotating organizers are aesthetically pleasing, but they also help clients maintain the devised organizational structure.

    Then the assembly step comes in. Shearer and Teplin set up the space with their labeled organizational product in ways that are beautiful and that make sense with a room’s function and the flow of activities that will take place there.  

    The last element in the process is upkeep. Clients’ abilities to sustain the organizational design is essential to maintaining a calming lifestyle in which everything has a place. Shearer and Teplin recommend a one-in, one-out policy; that is, replacing an already-there item with a newly acquired one. They also recommend getting other people involved in the space’s organizational structure. 

    Applying THE to writing instruction

    I was excited when Shearer and Teplin discussed how their organizational process related to the writing of their book

    Organizing a book is no different from organizing a space: You have to take inventory of everything you want in there, clean out what you don’t, sort items by type, identify how   to make those items as accessible as possible, and then make the whole thing look nice. (p. 22) 

    Here are my ideas for applying THE to your writing instruction. 

    Edit: Invite students to take a piece of writing and highlight (with physical highlighters or in a computer program) like parts in the same colors. For example, if they are writing a piece about dinosaurs, have them highlight information about the time period in which the dinosaurs lived in green, information about their size in pink, information about their diet in blue, and so on. Then have them cut their paper or copy and paste sections so that they can organize like elements into groups. Student writers may also decide about sections to keep or get rid of here. 

    Assembly: Now that the organizational structure has been determined, students can articulate to you or to their writing group about how their paper sections are organized. They can have meetings with their writing group to make sure that the paper flows in this new organizational structure and to check if any sections need to be shortened or lengthened for balance. Students can then write a new draft of their piece. 

    Upkeep: Students can meet with you or with their writing group members to discuss how the organizational structure exercise improved their writing and how their peers were able to give them suggestions for their writing. Here is also where I would suggest that you engage students in conversations about how they might use strategies learned in this experience to future writing assignments so that they are reflecting on how they will “upkeep” this writing skill. 

    [Note: This UNC Writing Center color-coding video inspired my writing tip.] 

    The next time you find yourself watching Get Organized With The Home Edit, consider how you can apply its ideas not only in your home but also your classroom as well. I would love to see how you’re incorporating THE in your literacy instruction, so feel free to share your ideas with me!

    And if you want a few more ideas about how I applied THE method to editing resources, look out for my second blog post in this series coming soon.

    Katie Caprino is an assistant professor of pK–12 New Literacies at Elizabethtown College. She teaches and researches in the areas of children’s, middle grade, and young adult literature; technology integration in the literacy classroom; and the teaching of writing and blogs frequently at her blog Katie Reviews Books (katiereviewsbooks.wordpress.com). You can follow her on Twitter @KCapLiteracy.

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    ​ Identifying Your Students' Strengths and Needs

    By Towanda Harris
     | Apr 28, 2021

    Walking into a classroom for the first time can cause a whirlwind of thoughts to whip around in your mind. There are so many factors to consider about the success of your students in that school year. Outside of academics, you have to consider parental involvement, student behaviors, administrative support and, of course, resources.

    You would love to share stories of how your summer preparation is the same year to year. You would love to say that your reading corner is organized the same each year. You would love to say that classroom arrangements stay the same throughout the year. In this fantasy land, we could just unpack our labeled containers and unroll our anchor charts and quickly begin teaching, day one.

    Reality is very different. Changes occur midyear because students are not thriving. We all know this feeling. Just as businesses consider their customers when creating new products, we consider our students when developing our plans of action each year.

     

    In every classroom, you’ll find a range of students, from those who are working several grade levels below to those who are working above level. The only way we can equip our students for success is to meet them where they are, and the only way to do that is to get to know their needs and strengths.

    Knowing our students helps us to choose the most useful resources for them and to make every moment of our precious instructional time count.

    You can continue your professional learning with Towanda Harris by watching this free ILA Webinar, “Journey to a Student-Centered Classroom: Equitable Practices That Make a Difference,” and by downloading a free sample chapter of her book, The Right Tools, from Heinemann.

    From the classroom to the district, Dr. Towanda Harris has trained teachers throughout the state of Georgia. She brings almost 20 years of professional experience to each of her sessions. Her workshops are engaging and provide teachers with useful tools that allow them to reflect on their current practice. Originally an elementary school teacher, she has served as a literacy coach, adjunct professor, K–12 staff developer, and curriculum writer.

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    The Screen Time Dilemma: Picture Books as Tools to Guide Reflection on Social Habits and Cultural Practices

    By Kathleen A. Paciga and Melanie D. Koss
     | Apr 13, 2021
    Girl on mobile phone

    Children’s books are commonly used in home, school, and community contexts to promote awareness of complex social issues at the earliest stages of development. Children and their caregivers encounter cultural models for, and may appropriate sociocultural values and norms about, the screen time dilemma through their experiences with texts that contain narratives about screens. The dilemma centers on the question of how much screen time—oftentimes measured in the number of minutes—is too much? Also considered is the types of interactions children have with devices.

    More and more frequently, picture books contain representations of screens, media, and technologies. How might these texts be leveraged to help children understand their relationships with screens in a more nuanced way?

    Lots of talk about screen time

    Headlines in major news media outlets have long put forward claims about the dangers of increases in screen time for children who are spending more minutes looking at screen media than ever before. This has intensified since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although some of the science has suggested corollary damages to eyes and increased weight in children with excessive and sedentary use of screens, there are several additional factors associated with screen time, some more positive, that tend to be overlooked in the discussion.

    Moving past the number of minutes a child spends with a screen as the criteria for evaluating the worth of a child’s experience with screens is critical. A consideration of the “3 Cs”—the Child, the Context, and the Content—provides a more balanced lens for evaluation. Consider the whole child—their cognitive, physical, social, and emotional development—and their needs as related to the current context in which screens are used. Also consider the quality of the content and whether it is used for entertainment, creativity, or social interaction, or to help the child learn about a topic that is of interest to them.

    Media mentorship

    Shortly after mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets came to market, librarians and education researchers started suggesting that caregivers and children need media mentors. Media mentors help families make wise technology choices for and with their children, and they help families use new cultural tools.

    Teachers can step into this role by leveraging read-alouds to launch discussions around how students and caregivers embrace, restrict, or balance the screens, digital media, and technologies in their lives.

    Titles and talking points

    The stories that follow offer abundant opportunity to explore these issues with pre-K–3 children and their families. Across all titles, teachers have opportunities to talk about what is added to and omitted from the child’s life while screens are turned on, turned off, or put to the side.

    The Breaking News (Sarah Lynne Ruel, Roaring Brook)

    Presenting a view of parents tracking a significant news event on the television and their phones, a little girl is confused and overwhelmed. She tries to find a way to make a difference in cheering up her family and community. This story opens the door for conversations about current events and the role of screens in presenting the news. Kids can advocate in their homes for adults to “turn it off,” and adults can help explain the importance of news in everyday life, exploring the emotions that a breaking news story might present.

    Our Great Big Backyard (Laura Bush & Jenna Bush Hager, HarperCollins)

    Jane’s parents are making her go on a family cross-country road trip, but Jane really wants to stay home with her friends. She spends her time texting her friends or watching videos on a device, ignoring her parents’ encouragement to enjoy the great outdoors. Jane eventually arrives at the conclusion that what is going on around her in reality is worth attending to. This story allows for conversation about children’s desire to connect with peers, the role of media in a child’s life, and the ways caregivers might find balance between experiences indoors and outdoors, with screens and without screens, as well as between peers and family.

    Hair Love (Matthew A. Cherry, Kokila)

    It’s a special day, and Zuri needs to create the perfect hairstyle, but her dad is sleeping. While researching possibilities, her tablet falls, waking her dad. He attempts several styles, but none are quite right. Zuri encourages him to watch a video tutorial to learn how it’s done. This book beautifully celebrates the positives and potentials of screens as a tool for learning and inquiry. It provides opportunities to discuss a child’s goals for using a screen and fosters understandings of how screens can be used alone or in conjunction with others—as is captured in the joint use between Zuri and her father as well as in the celebratory selfie Zuri snaps at the end of the story.

    When Grandma Gives You a Lemon Tree (Jamie L.B. Deenihan, Sterling)

    What do you do when you really want a technological toy for your birthday but instead you get a lemon tree? The main character had to learn to make the best of it, ultimately growing to appreciate the joy that taking care of something can bring. Sharing the tree and lemons with her family and neighborhood inspired the main character to explore gardening and her friends to put down their technology and explore nature. A house portrayed without any technology and feeling like the only one without allows for discussion on consumerism and wanting, yet not always receiving, what peers have, as well as ways to interact with others around items without screens.

    For more on where ILA stands on using technology as a tool to teach children, read our position statement and literacy leadership brief Digital Resources in Early Childhood Literacy Development.

     

    ILA member Katie A. Paciga is an associate professor at Columbia College, Chicago in Illinois.

    ILA member Melanie D. Koss is an associate professor at Northern Illinois University.

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